JOY journal tutorial

The idea of utilising every day things that have served their purpose but deserve more than being put in the bin, thrills me no end! Combining this urge with my obsession of all things stationery, the love of making recycled books was birthed!

The Joy Journal is my version of a "gratitude book" in which all things that make you smile, make your heart a flutter, toes tingle....are to be documented, scribbled in or glued down! The fact that the Joy Journal is made from 100% recycled household "scraps", only heightens the authenticity and Joy! 

...the  journals are very personal, the paper used may have wrapped gifts received from loved ones, holds a doodle from your child, enveloped an invitation... is VERY likely that you will already  possess EVERYTHING you need to make this journal, though it may require a bit of  rummaging!

...these Joy Journals are sooo tactile and invite being held and loved and written in!

...the variety of designs within envelopes alone make a wonderful array of mediums to be created upon.....add on embellishments, tags, ribbons etc then we have a heavenly journal for texture junkies! 

...the blank white page fear  is banished... no more "oooh my writing is too messy, I don't want to ruin the nice clean page!....(or is that just me!?) can ultimately use whatever writeable surface you can find as a page so long as it can be pierced with a use your imagination!

The aim of this tutorial is to explain how I made the Joy Journal pictured below, and through this give you the basics from where you can add/ alter and mingle in your own magic, creativity and expression of Joy!

What you need:
2 pieces of thick card -
I have used 2 cardboard pieces measuring 10.5 cms wide x 16cms long.
These will make your front and back Journal cover.
The size of the cardboard you decide to use depends on the size of the journal you wish to create (bearing in mind the paper you have available to make the pages from) 

you could use : cardboard from the back of an old sketch pad,
                      two or three layers of thin cereal box cardboard
                      glued together
                      two pages from a childrens old board book 
                      hardboard from an old/unwanted picture frame
                      this list is by no means exhaustive!

The covers can actually be any shape, but one straight lined edge is required to make this style of journal.

25 pieces of "paper" -
25 pieces of paper are to measure 21cms wide by 32cms long (twice the size of one journal cover). Each piece will be folded in half to form 2 pages of your journal. 
We are making a journal with 5 signatures (bundles) containing 5 pieces of paper. This will give you 100 sides of paper to joyfully fill...

you could use : envelopes, wrapping paper, photographs, scrap photo copies, wall paper, junk mail, magazines, school notebooks, road atlas, child's doodles, sketches 
the list is as unlimited as your imagination and recycling box stock! 
Please note- you may need to iron the crumples out using a medium heat!

you will never look at envelopes in the same way again! lovely lovely designs!

Use one of the pieces of card that will become your journal cover as a template to cut around.
Scissors or a craft knife are equally as good for cutting, if you have a paper cutter/ guillotine go for it!

(The covers will both be covered in paper collage and painted and so will end up slightly bigger than the paper pages. However my aim of the Joy Journal is for a texture/feely-fest so I like having frills and ribbons and paper showing...if you would prefer to have this concealed by the journal cover then you size the paper smaller than the journal covers.)

2 pieces of fabric/ ribbon -
measuring 2 cms wide by 7 cms long.
This is what binds the 5 signatures and the covers together.

(The length is an over estimation but allows for a bit more room in the binding process. The width can be varied but will require an alteration of the measurements of hole spaces described further in this tutorial)

1 needle
a length of thread/ embroidery floss approx 1 metre long
scrap paper (for cover collage)
glue/gel medium
paint (acrylic/water soluble crayons/gouache/household emulsion)

Step 1:
Paper prep!
This stage is the bit I love best...the pages take on a new life...are re-incarnated!
So you have your 25 pieces of paper folded in half......time to add on little pockets that can cover unwanted writing on the paper, use the windows of your envelopes to reveal little treasures, unleash the sewing machine to attach embellishments, sew on little additions by hand or get the glue stick out if you prefer.
Some examples of pages I have made with a combination of all of the above; 

Step 2:
Gathering your Signatures 
Having decorated and embellished the 25 folded pieces of paper until your heart is content, it is time now to divide the pages into 5 bundles (signatures) which will consist of 5 pieces of paper.
Here you can see 5 pieces of paper, the pale pink piece of paper being the centre of the signature.

And here are my 5 signatures ready for binding.

The next step is to make a template which will be used to mark where the holes are required for the binding stage. This can be made from a scrap piece of paper measuring 16cms long (length of the page) and 4cms wide. 
The Joy Journal uses a combination of coptic stitch and tape binding and I use a ribbon that is 2cm wide....thus the required template has the holes marked 1cm from the top (for coptic stitch), then another at 3 cms from the top, 5cms, 11cms, 13cms and lastly 15cms(for coptic stitch again). This makes for a nice symmertrical book spine! 

Opening the first signature fully, with the centre page facing towards you, place the template in the centre.
Next pierce through each hole with a decent sized sewing needle ensuring that you go through each of the 5 pages and directly through the centre fold. If you own an awl then now's the time to get it out! 
Pierce your 6 holes in each 5 signatures and now we are ready to sew!

Step 3:
Binding your pages
Take your needle threaded with embroidery thread/floss (3 strands) or cotton thread (2 strands,3 if really thin thread) and start at the top end of your first signature. Bring your needle from the outside page towards the centre page of this signature and follow the pre-pierced holes weaving in and out with your needle and thread. 
The template used to mark the holes has been designed so that the thread will be sewn over the ribbon, and with reasonable tension used on the thread this will hold the ribbon in place. 
You want to leave a 5cm tail of thread at the very first first hole the needle enters. This will be worked into the stitches when the binding is complete.
(See Example 2 shown further in the tutorial for a working sketch of the stitches you will be making for the whole book)


 centre page of signature 1 working from top to bottom

By following the weave of the pre-pierced holes ,the needle will exit the final hole of signature 1 from the centre page to the outside. From here the needle will enter the bottom hole of signature 2.  
Be careful here that signature 2 is the right way round and is matching signature 1's top and bottom! You want to pull the thread until the signature sits squarely on top of the first signature. If you pull too tightly on these stitches the journal ends up forming a fan shape where the pages sit like an open mouth rather than flat on the table!(if you get my drift!)

Again weave the needle in and out of the holes, always with the thread being sewn over the external ribbon until the needle exits through the top hole of signature 2. Here it will meet the loose end of the thread from where you started. You can tie a knot here to bind the top of signature 1 and 2 together (or wait until the binding of 5 signatures are complete and work the thread into these stitches)
Then, taking signature 3 (ensuring you are working from the top to the bottom), enter the top hole of this signature and repeat the in/out weave until the needle exits at the bottom hole.
At this point, we want to bind the bottom of signature 3 with both signatures 2 and 4 and we do this with the coptic stitch detailed in Example 1 below.
The needle passes back through the bottom stitch of signature 2 from where it moves forward to the bottom hole of signature 4.

Example 1 - coptic stitch, used to bind the top and bottom part of the signatures. 

From here the in/out weave is repeated up the centre of signature 4 and when the top has been reached, the binding to signature 3 and 5 is done so by repeating the coptic stitch shown in Example 1.

The needle now works it's in/out weave down signature 5, and when reached the bottom, has to connect to signature 4 via the coptic stitch again. Once the needle has passed through the bottom stitch of signature 4, the needle is passed back through the bottom hole of sig 5. Here the thread can be securely tied to the thread visible on the centre fold of this signature. Alternatively, once signature 4 and 5 have been bound together with the coptic stitch the thread can be sewn into the coptic stitches that bind the other signatures until you feel the thread is secure and not going to become unravelled.

Example 2 -sketch showing the direction of the stitches used in binding the whole journal.

It may be your choice to leave long ends rather than work the thread in, from which beads/adornments can be attached.

Step 4:
Decorating the Covers 
Well,I hope you are now feeling reasonably satisfied with you binding efforts! It is definitely the most fiddly part of the journal, but as the word so aptly describes, its brings everything together and transforms your little recycled page creations into a tangible book..... love it! :)

So this is the bit where you create the cover for your journal, which can be as simple or intricate as you desire. 

I cover the cardboard with random pieces of scrap paper which roughly matches the colours of the paper I have used for the pages. This slightly increases the size of the front pages as I described earlier, it gives the cardboard extra strength and covers the rough surface or writing on the re-cycled card I use. I also like the textured effect this background can create which matches the 'shabby chic' look of the journal!

You want the paper to have an overlap of atleast 1cm on the back side of each piece of cardboard to allow for a neat finish.
I use Gel Medium or PVA glue to stick the paper down.

Alternatively, you could use a single piece of paper (patterned/photo copy of treasured photo/artwork already created etc) sized 13.5cm wide by 19cm long and glue this on with overlapping edges, if you don't want to go down the collage/mixed media route.

Once I have created the collaged background, I use paint on top to create little splashes of colour and block in shapes that I want to stand out. (The paint I use can vary from acrylic paint to water soluble crayons to left over paint used to paint walls in my home!)  
For this Journal I painted over a snowflake stencil with orange acrylic paint then painted a basic butterfly shape on top with turquoise acrylic and a darker blue water soluble crayon. The outlines of the butterfly and edges of the cover were done with a charcoal pencil. Details were added with permanent pens.

You can add a final layer of Gel medium or watered down PVA glue to add a gloss to the cover and seal in your work.

Here are some other journal covers I have painted using the same process of collage background with paint, charcoal pencil and pens on top.


Step 5:
Attaching the covers

The ribbon is simply glued onto the inside of the cardboard cover ensuring that when the journal is closed the cover sits flat on top of the signatures. I stick both covers on at the same time with the help of clothes pegs to help keep the ribbon in place until the glue is dry! The trick here is to place an unwanted piece of paper between the inside cover and the first page as the glue can seep through the ribbon and stick your front page to the cover.   

Once the ribbon is attached securely to the covers the final thing to do is stick a piece of paper (approx 9.5-10 cms wide by 15cm long) over the exposed cardboard and ribbon on the inside of the covers. This finishes the journal off nicely!
 Alternatively you can glue the first and last page in your journal to the inside of your covers to finish your journal off.

And here you have very own JOY journal! YAY!!

I hope you have found this tutorial useful and it goes a little way to looking differently at your junk pile :) 
I would SO love to hear how you get on and see any journals inspired.
I would also be grateful if you could let me know if there are any parts that don't make sense or need a little bit of clarity ....this is my first attempt at a tutorial and while it makes sense to me I realise my mind works very differently from others :)

May you journal joyfully! xx 

Gallery of Journals:

Recycled fruit and milk cartons! 

Re-cycled fabric

recycled plastic bag

recycled toy packaging (pages use some old sky photos amongst other recycled paper)
Books without a function!
(but made with re-cycled bits and bobs all the same!)



  1. Wow! Very instructive. All the photos are inspiration and I especially like the signature part. You make it very clear. Will save this page for future help :-)

    Thanks for sharing this! Going to tweet it for you :-)

  2. Ok, could you be any cooler?!? Recycled milk and juice cartons...genius!

    What a great tutorial to share :)


  3. This is so inspiring - I'm definitely having a go. I was so inspired by your last giveaway that I got together loads of stuff and instructions from my Mum, (who gives classes on making books - but sadly doesn't live close by) so I'm ready to go. Now I have a visual reference I'm hoping it'll turn out OK.
    Now when can I get some spare time?

  4. This is fab, thank you! I have oodles of bits of material and paper lying around that are too small to do anything with but too lovely to throw away, including some very old scraps of embroidery I cut from a vintage dress. I used to work for a vintage shop when I had just left college, and the owners would go to theatre sales and buy up vintage costumes by weight. I then got rummage through them all and buy for "buttons" the costumes that were too far gone to sell. Then I'd take them home and cut off all the features that were salvageable, buttons, bows, embroidered details. I have these bits and pieces lying around and always knew they'd be wonderful for something, and now I've found the thing I could use them for! I am so excited to be able to sit down and do this, Jenny. I'm going to blog about it in a blog post, and send my readers over to you. xxx

  5. I am itching to make a journal again this year but lacked the get up and go to start and didn't want to just do the same old,same old. I too am saving this page as your instructions are so clear, I tried watching a utube video yesterday but my internet speed is so pathetic that it takes forever and when it got going the blokes hand was in the way!! Thank you this is just what I need. Beautifully done! Serendipity rules, Sheila

  6. Thank you for your technical advice! I've now added the pages I want to my new blog! Whoop. Whoop. x

  7. I have wanted to do a fabric journal ever since I saw one on display in a craft shop where I went to a workshop (for something completely different) I just wanted to get them to let me make that instead - they said no but let me have a feel and an "oooooh" and it was so tactile. Am not the most experienced on a sewing machine but think I will follow your instructions and have a go. And I love your idea of a joy journal - fits in with something I take part in on a Friday (Rocking Your World Friday) so will definitely be playing along :) Thanks for these instructions :)